Today, a survey of 500 residents in Sydney, Australia’s beach community of Waverly Council, was released. Waverley is home to several iconic beaches, including Bondi, Bronte, and Tamarama beaches. The survey focused on sharks, shark ‘attacks,’ and policy responses to shark bites. The Executive summary and full results are available here.
Four facts stand out from this research, which could change the way we think about sharks:
1.) 70% of responses (1–5) said they would not blame the government if shark nets were removed and then there was a fatal shark attack.
2.) 75% of responses (6–10) said they would return to a beach where the nets had been removed.
3.) 71% believe shark attacks are accidental.
4.) 71% believe “no one” is to blame for shark attacks.
Waverley in 2023 represents the third shark survey in this research plan which provides comparable data with two additional locations: Perth in 2016 and Ballina in 2015.
The Waverely Shark Survey shows that a majority of those surveyed (71%) believe “no one” is to blame for shark “attacks.” This builds on the survey numbers from this question in Perth (59%) and Ballina (63%). This package of results provides the strongest evidence to date of a pivot in public opinion away from demonizing sharks.
The survey also showed that a majority of people have pride/support for their local shark populations. In Waverley, we see 55% pride; in Ballina, 53% pride and in Perth, 54% pride (across the range of 6–10 in the survey). Pride is a proxy for endemic value and an important factor in support of shark conservation and coexistence. The more pride a community has in local wildlife, the less likely they are to support lethal methods to kill them. Indeed, there is data from Cape Town that pride will be generally maintained even after a shark bite incident.
How much pride/support do you have for the local shark population?
It is also important to note that there remains a healthy degree of concern and fear regarding sharks as apex predators, with a majority of respondents to the survey indicating that they are frightened of sharks. Again this data highlights that there is a good amount of public education regarding sharks for people to understand that it is healthy to be both afraid and prideful of sharks in the area.
Figure 3. On a scale of 1–10, how afraid are you of sharks?
Lastly, the Waverley Shark Survey highlights opposition to media portrayals of human-shark interactions as “shark attacks.” In the case of this survey, shark “attack” language was intentionally used to prime the public and provide additional data. Here we see in Waverley that 58% believe shark “attack” language is too sensational from the media as well as 66% in Ballina and 67% in Perth. Indeed, there is a trend away from media use of the shark “attack” narrative. A study released in late 2022 found that the New York Times appears to have changed its reporting style.
Do you think “shark attack” reporting in the media is too sensational?
In closing, the 2023 Waverley Shark Survey represents an important snapshot of seaside perceptions about sharks and human-shark interactions. Here, we see both trends that favour sharks and awareness of the dangers that sharks pose. For more information or any questions, please contact Chris Pepin-Neff at christopherneff [at] gmail.com.
Dr. Chris Pepin-Neff (they/them) is an author and academic. The opinions voiced here belong to the author alone and do not represent their employer.